The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey * * * *
Director: Peter Jackson.
Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens.
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Lee Pace, Graham McTavish, Aidan Turner, Dean O’Gorman, Sylvester McCoy, Barry Humphries, Stephen Hunter, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Benedict Cumberbatch, Elijah Wood.
When news of an adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit arrived, I have to admit that I was very eager to see it move along briskly. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Production was so slow that original director Guillermo del Toro had to leave due to other commitments. Although this was disappointing news, all was not lost as “The Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson returned to the helm to assume control of this prequel. Expectations were high and it left the overhanging question as to whether he could emulate his past successes. Well, it’s certainly not without it’s flaws but again Jackson has delivered another indulgent cinematic experience from the treasured quill of Tolkien’s world.
The Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor has been taken over by the fearsome dragon, Smaug and a plan is set to reclaim it and the treasures lost. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is a Hobbit who finds himself thrust into this quest on the recommendation of the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen). Smaug is not the only thing that stands in their way, though; a malevolent presence is at work in middle-earth which could affect all of them.
After a brief introduction to the plight of the dwarves and a devastating introduction to the dragon Smaug, we are taken straight back to the Shire where the whole story of the Hobbit adventures originated. It’s here that we’re reminded of the twee environment in which these little halfling’s reside and with Jackson calling the shots, you know straight away that you are in comfortable hands. Gandalf and Bilbo’s first meeting is addressed and the rest of the main characters are rounded up before the film begins it’s “unexpected journey”. When I say this, though, it sounds like the film gets straight down to business and gets the formalities out the way. It doesn’t. Jackson takes his time in establishing the set-up and he chooses to flesh out every detail. As a result, it becomes apparent that the film isn’t flowing as easily as it could do. Things do pick up, though, and it’s very difficult not to get swept up in the sheer visual masterclass that’s delivered before your eyes. It’s absolutely breathtaking to observe and none more so, than when Jackson begins to deliver his highly impressive, action set-pieces. From a confrontation with campfire Trolls to battling Rock monsters and giant sweeping eagles, they’re all absolutely astounding and thrillingly executed. However, despite the excitement, what these moments lack is the ability to feel like the characters are in any real danger. Maybe this is because I had read the book beforehand or maybe it’s because the set-pieces only served to instil some excitement before taking a break and doing it all over again. There is a feeling of repetition to the film and, dare I say it, a feeling of tediousness. Jackson’s decision to flesh out this short children’s novel into a trilogy of films – that will no doubt run between two and three hours each – seems wholly unnecessary but I suppose time will tell on that. As it is, though, this film is certainly overlong and it, simply, didn’t need to be. Some scenes are laborious and you can’t help but get the feeling that Jackson should just move it along. On the other hand, I found it hard to deny how much fun I was having. Much like “The Lord of the Rings“, it’s aided by very strong performances; McKellen is his usual reliable self as Gandalf and although I wasn’t convinced with the choice of Martin Freeman as Bilbo, I have to admit that he slotted in very well indeed. As for the dwarves, well, out of the whole thirteen of them, only a handful actually stand out. The one that really rises to the surface is that of Thorin Oakenshield and Richard Armitage plays him to perfection – channeling an Aragorn/Viggo Mortensen charismatic presence. He’s so commanding that it’s hard to accept that he’s only a dwarf. Another highlight from the performances is seeing Andy Serkis reprise his role of Gollum. Once again, the go-to guy for motion capture brings this complex little character to life.
The ingredients are all here and it certainly looks like there’s more mileage in these characters yet. I just hope that Jackson knows when to trim the edges next time round.
A little less plodding and bit more urgency will be required for the second instalment if this trilogy is to truly find it’s feet. That being said, it finishes strongly and if Jackson can keep that momentum going then this could yet turn out to be a very successful return to middle-earth.